With the 83rd anniversary of the birth of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. comes news that a biopic of the civil rights leader's life — and untimely death — is in the works. British director Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Supremacy) has written a movie about the days and hours leading up to King's 1968 assassination in Memphis, Tenn. Here's the early word on the film project, tentatively titled Memphis:
What should audiences expect?
Memphis would dramatize King's life before his assassination on April 4, 1968, a time when his "personal and professional lives were in disarray," reports Claude Brodesser-Akner at New York's Vulture blog. The civil rights leader's marriage was faltering, his drinking was out of control, and his opposition to the Vietnam War had caused a falling out with President Lyndon Johnson. The film would likely offer a "much more human portrayal of King than some might expect."
Is it likely to be a conspiracy theory movie, like JFK?
"It could probably go either way," says Sean O'Neal at The A.V. Club. Don't forget, Greengrass made the "near-documentary style" Bloody Sunday, as well as the more paranoid Bourne thrillers. If Greengrass does go down the conspiracy route, adds Brodesser-Akner, he's got plenty to work with, as theories have implicated "everyone from the CIA [to] the Boy Scouts of America."
Is this the first time someone has made a King biopic?
Yes — but "the movie landscape is littered with (as yet) unrealized King projects," says John Beifuss at Memphis-based movie blog The Bloodshot Eye. Steven Spielberg was set to produce a King biopic as recently as 2009, with a script by Ronald Harwood, the Oscar-winning writer of The Pianist. "But no news about [that] film has been announced in over a year."
Is this Greengrass film likely to happen?
"Have some grains of salt handy," says James White at Empire. "No formal negotiations have kicked off just yet," and it's firmly in the "possible" category, rather than definite. Don't forget Greengrass also had a Jimi Hendrix biopic in the works, adds Gabe Toro at Indie Wire, but that "fizzled out."
Who could play MLK?
"We love Anthony Mackie," says Gabe Toro at Indie Wire, though the star of The Hurt Locker might "not be beefy enough." Jeffrey Wright would be "excellent, too." Rule out Denzel Washington, says Terri Schwartz at MTV, given that he "also played Malcolm X" in Spike Lee's biopic and may not want to "double dip" with civil rights leaders. "Will Smith has repeatedly been mentioned as the ideal future choice," says Richard Horgan at MediaBistro. But it's fair to say casting will be Greengrass' "real challenge."